I’ve been smoking and making jerky for around 50 years now. Never owned a store bought smoker before last year.
But I decided to get a Masterbuilt, and I chose a 30.
I was highly disappointed in the first time I used it. I smoke a lot of Salmon, but also smoke most anything else, make smoked trout, smoked almonds, halibut… on and on.
Much of my use is cold or warm smoking. My brand new MES 30 wouldn’t make smoke below 200° F. I want to smoke things, not bake them and add smoke. So right out of the gate, I modified the holy pazzolly out of it to make it work right. I wanted a smoker, what I got was an outdoor oven.
The problem is it would not heat the chips enough to make them smolder.
So I did my own version of a Mailbox Mod, stripped out the sheet metal chip feeder, and separated the heater for the box, and the smoke generation. AHHHH, got a good smoker after that.
I’ve since got and built an Inkbird PID controller to work the sub-100’s temperature control, put a bypass switch across the control relay so I can use two methods to do my smoking. Basically, ambient (cold smoking) up to MES self described 275°, which in my case is more like 310-320° F. Because my MES 30 runs hotter than most.
I found my MES 30 was marginal when I began smoking my own home cured bacon. I wanted more capacity. When I began making meat snack sticks, I found I wanted more height.
I got lucky when a guy gave me his non-working MES 40. I bypassed the temperature control and plugged it into my Inkbird PID, and wa-la, a resurrected MES 40.
It serves to smoke my cooler smoked items just fine. (Using my Mailbox Mod)
At your price point I can suggest two good alternatives to the others, A Smokin It #1, or a Smokin it #2.
I set out to get rid of my Bradley Puck feeder, because of their golden puck prices. Pellets are much cheaper, widely available and competitively priced around me, and now… I dissolve them, dry the dust out, and smoke with dust exclusively. I use an Amazen tray and get a full 6 hours from a load of dust, or 11 hours from a full tray of pellets.
But I like the TASTE I get with the dust best.
So my experience and needs are quite different from the box stock MES smokers.